Not sure is honey is vegan? There have always been a few food items that are subject to debate when it comes to the question of whether or not they are truly vegan.
One such item is honey; many people mistakenly believe that honey is a vegan-friendly food.
Within this article, we are going to discuss and explain why honey is considered to be a non-vegan food substance. Plus I provide you with the best alternatives to consuming honey, so keep reading!
What is honey? How do bees produce it?
Everyone knows what honey is in the most basic sense: it is a sweet syrup-like substance that bees produce. But what is it really? In this section of the article, we will explain what honey is and what its true purpose is.
According to Elizabeth Palermo of LiveScience, honey is created from the nectar of flowering plants that the bees of the hive work hard to collect.
This nectar (which in its natural state is essentially just a sugary fluid) is collected by the bees and stored in their extra stomachs, where it mixes with special enzymes that change the nectar’s chemical composition.
This chemical change makes the nectar better for long-term storage so that the bees can regurgitate it later and store it in hive, where it eventually transforms into honey (once enough water evaporates out of the nectar).
Why does the nectar need to be suitable for long-term storage, you ask? Well, it just so happens that bees collect nectar and turn it into honey so that it can function as fuel for them.
Honey is an important food source for bees, particularly in the fall and winter months when it is colder out and they need to remain within their hives to avoid adverse weather conditions.
Is Honey Vegan? Why is Honey Not a Vegan Food?
Despite what most people think, honey is actually not a vegan food. In this section of the article, we will discuss the reasons for why this is the case.
Many people operate under the misconception that bees do not actually need their honey, and that because they do not need it we can take it and use it for ourselves without causing any harm to the bees. This is, unfortunately, very incorrect.
Essentially, it is their energy source, and depriving them of it can lead to many problems for the bees, the most severe of which is potential starvation during the colder seasons when they are dependent upon their honey as a food source.
According to the definition of veganism provided by The Vegan Society, because of how honey is by definition an animal product (since it is produced by animals, in this case bees) and because of how taking honey away from the bees that produce it can be considered exploitation at best (by taking the spoils of the bees’ hard labor) and cruelty at worst (by depriving them of a much-needed food source), honey is not a vegan food substance.
Keep on reading to learn about the 3 main reasons why you need to consuming honey.
1. Unethical and Harmful Beekeeping Practices
While there are considerate and ethical beekeepers in the world, there’s no denying that many beekeepers (especially those that work on farms specifically geared towards obtaining as much honey as possible and as quickly as possible) utilize unethical and sometimes even downright cruel and harmful techniques when retrieving honey from their hives.
According to an article by Diana Lupica (a vegan who writes informative pieces often for Plant Based News), one such inhumane practice is when farmers take honey out of beehives and replace it with a sugar substitute.
While this might seem like a fair trade at first glance, do not be fooled: this substitute is actually not a good replacement for the honey that was taken from the bees because it lacks the important nutrients and fats that the honey contained.
Furthermore, despite laws in place that require beekeepers to leave a certain amount of honey in the hives for the bees (typically sixty pounds of honey is the required amount to leave behind), many large operations will still take all the honey within a hive, leaving the bees to struggle through the harsher seasons without adequate sustenance.
Ms. Lupica also goes on to explain that many bees actually die as a result of farmers taking honey from the hives, not simply because of sustenance deprivation but also because of how many bees are injured or killed during the honey-harvesting process.
According to PETA, other unethical and cruel beekeeping practices include cutting off the wings of the queen bees to prevent them from leaving the hives they are in, and in some cases these queens are even artificially inseminated.
One more horrifying practice that occurs (usually with large farming operations) is beehives being entirely destroyed and the bees living within those hives killed during the winter months.
This happens because it is considered more cost-effective to simply start over with a new hive in the spring rather than expend the time, effort, and resources to feed and house the bees throughout the winter when they are not actively producing honey.
And while we know that not all beekeepers employ such distressing and unethical techniques, it is still important to understand that honey will never be considered a vegan food as long as bees are exploited and treated cruelly.
Is honey vegan to you? I personally don’t believe that the taste of honey is worth the suffering bees have to endure.
There are also potential environmental consequences to commercial beekeeping and unethical beekeeping practices, which we will discuss next.
2. Environmental Consequences
There are a few notable environmental consequences that can come about as a result of commercial honey production and unethical beekeeping practices.
For example, breeding honeybees to increase their productivity is a common (if increasingly controversial) occurrence.
And while the breeding of bees might seem straightforward and not overtly harmful, many bee-breeding efforts involve bringing different species and breeds of bees into a hive.
Importing different species of bees and breeding them together can have very serious unforeseen consequences, some of which include an increased risk of disease for the bees as well as large-scale die-offs.
In some cases, the diseases carried by these bees can even spread to other insects and pollinating creatures, which in turn can have a terrible impact on the pollination of plants (reducing their ability to produce seeds and grow).
According to an article written by Hilary Kearney (a full-time beekeeper in San Diego, California), another potential problem associated with large commercial honeybee operations is that they have a negative impact on native bee populations.
This is because the honeybees out-compete the native species in regards to resources (food especially), which in turn can lead to a sharp decline in native bee populations.
This is due to the fact that the native bee species are attuned to the native plants and can pollinate them effectively, whereas the honeybees are not going to pollinate the same plant species that the native bees do.
This can lead to some of those native plants dying out over time due to a lack of pollination.
The decline of these native plants (due to the absence of the native bees) can in turn have a wide-reaching impact throughout the rest of the ecosystem, particularly if there are any herbivores or omnivores in the ecosystem that are dependent upon those plants for sustenance.
If so, those species could also suffer from a population decline due to a lack of resources, and any carnivores in the ecosystem (that rely on those herbivores as prey) will also dwindle in population due to scarcity of food sources.
As you can see, the environmental impact that beekeeping operations (particularly those that are not operated responsibly and with good ethical values) can be far-reaching and result in a wide variety of ecological problems, some of which cascade into even larger issues over time.
Thankfully, there are quite a few excellent food products that you can use instead of honey; we will be discussing these vegan-friendly honey alternatives up next.
3. Vegan-Friendly Alternatives To Honey
There is no need for us to ask ourselves ‘is honey vegan?’, there are actually a large number of vegan-friendly honey alternatives to choose from, but today we are going to focus on some of the most popular ones.
While some of these are more honey-like than others, you can rest easy knowing that they are all sustainably sourced from plants.
According to an article written for YourDailyVegan.com by KD Angle-Traegner (a Vegan lifestyle blogger), there are seven main honey substitutes that will work well for a vegan person.
1. Agave Nectar
The first of these potential substitutes is agave nectar. Produced from agave plants, this particular sweetener is actually considered by many people to be sweeter than honey, but also less thick and viscous.
It is also available in different varieties; each different kind of agave nectar has a unique color and taste to it, which can give you more variety when it comes to sweetening up drinks and food.
2. Coconut Nectar
A second honey alternative that many people enjoy is coconut nectar. Made from coconut sap, this sweetener is both sweet and tangy.
And despite its source, coconut nectar has no coconut flavor or aftertaste to speak of, so it is a viable option even for people who do not normally like the taste of coconut.
This particular sweetener is also notable for being low-glycemic, making it a great choice for anyone who is diabetic or pre-diabetic.
3. Maple Syrup
A third honey alternative is maple syrup, a substance that is commonly used as a condiment for pancakes, waffles, and other breakfast foods.
Whatever it is used for, maple syrup is always produced from the sap of maple trees (usually the sugar, red, or black maple species) so you can rest assured that is is both sustainable and vegan-friendly.
The next honey alternative for vegans is molasses, which is made from refining sugarcane and sugar beets.
Molasses, like various other plant-based syrups, comes in different varieties that you can choose from. Some are darker and thicker with a more potent flavor, while others are lighter in both color and taste.
5. Barley Malt Syrup
A fifth potential substitute for honey is barley malt syrup, which is lesser known compared to some of the other plant-based syrups, but potentially a more effective substitute thanks to the fact it can be substituted in equal amounts for honey.
For example, if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of honey, you can instead use a tablespoon of barley malt syrup without needing to calculate any complicated substitution values like you might need to do with other honey alternatives.
6. Brown Rice Syrup
The sixth most effective honey alternative for vegans is brown rice syrup. Made by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break it down into sugar and then filtering out any impurities to produce a thick dark syrup, this particular sweetener is a good substitute for honey, especially if you want a creamy flavor reminiscent of caramel.
7. Date Syrup
I personally love medjool dates because they are not only sweet and delicious, but are also loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Moreover, they help decrease cholesterol, boost bone health, prevent and relieve constipation, boost your energy, and reduce triglyceride levels.
Since I am a big fan of medjool dates, I often make myself date syrup, which has so many nutritional benefits.
Date syrup is rich in fiber, has no cholesterol, contains natural antioxidants, is an excellent source of potassium, and has a low glycemic index.
It is actually pretty easy to make date syrup. You just need a few medjool dates, some water, and little lemon juice. Blend them all to the perfect consistency. Then you can enjoy your homemade sweetener!
Of course, the seven honey alternatives we discussed here in this article are by no means your only choices. If none of the options we mentioned here appeal to you, there are still plenty of vegan-friendly honey alternatives you can try.
Other popular honey substitutes include (but are not limited to) pear honey, apple honey, date paste, dandelion syrup, yacon root syrup (low-glycemic sweetener that comes from a Peruvian plant), and sorghum syrup that comes from a plant called “sweet sorghum,” which has a juicier stalk.
Finally, I would like to leave you with the video below, which summaries everything we have talked about. Check it out!
So, is honey vegan? As you can see, it is quite clear that honey is not a vegan-friendly food substance, due both to the fact that it is produced by animals (bees) and that those animals are exploited and sometimes even treated cruelly during the honey production and collection process.
Therefore, it is important to abstain from consuming honey if you truly believe in leading a vegan lifestyle. Luckily, there are plenty of vegan-friendly plant-based honey alternatives available to choose from, so swapping out honey for a more environmentally-friendly and ethically-sound option should not be overly difficult.
Have you giving up honey yet? What is your favorite alternative to honey? Let me know on the comment section below. And don’t forget to share this article in your favorite social media platform!